What Is OSFED? New Eating Disorder Impacts All Ages

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Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder (OSFED) is a rather new eating disorder that has flown under the radar.

The National Eating Disorders Collaboration calls OSFED a variation of Anorexia Nervosa and describes it as a serious mental illness that occurs in adults, adolescents and children.

Medical experts said eating disorders are under the umbrella that covers anorexia nervosa on one side and bulimia on the other. In the middle, underneath the umbrella are variations, including OSFED—which is a full-blown eating disorder.

Reasons for developing OSFED include genetic predisposition and a combination of environmental, social and cultural factors.

“Parents will see their child being very picky or only eating maybe two kinds of food,” Dr. Laura Hill, who heads The Center for Balanced Living in Columbus, said.

Dr. Hill said people with OSFED avoid or restrict food but unlike anorexia, they do not normally express feeling fat.

“So the body disturbance is not part of it but the avoidance is extremely prevalent to the point that it creates all kinds of problems for them to sustain their body strength and to stay healthy," she said.

Dr. Hill said OSFED is diagnosed across the spectrum of age but 90 percent of those with the illness are female.

Lane McKelvey, who is recovering from OSFED, said timing and planning helped her along in the process.

"I know I need to stay within those times and time limits or the eating disorder wins and the argument gets harder," she said.

McKelvey said her complicated relationship with food started in junior high, continued through college, Army ROTC and even now as she works through recovery.

"It's like a constant voice that berates you and tells you everything you can't do because you're not as good as everyone around you," she said.

The constant voice is critical to what research only recently revealed about eating disorders: that they are biologically-based illnesses caused after a change in brain chemistry. 

“The thoughts are coming back from all the irritation response in the brain:  in a loose way, it's almost like I could say the brain is allergic to food," Dr. Hill said.

Families should watch for these behaviors including avoiding or restricting food intake, nervousness or anxiety around meal times and significant weight loss or nutritional deficiency.   There can also be isolation or psychosocial problems. 

McKelvey said the Intensive Outpatient therapy saved her life and recovery has changed her self-image and outlook on life.

“I feel like I’m living my life instead of just existing in it,” she said. “I’m enjoying going out to dinner with my friends, I’m enjoying meals with my family, with my daughter.”

She now uses her experience to help and encourage others living with OSFED with a blog that can be found at www.beautifulbodyacceptance.net.

For more information about eating disorders and how to get help, visit the Center For Balanced Living and Nationwide Children's websites.